Harry Potter!

Take Her, She's Yours!
or Till Divorce Do Us Part

. "Alfie"

When your main character does things --even brags about them (continually)-- that many viewers would condemn as superficial, repugnant, and far too full of negative character traits to connect to emotionally, you have to come up with something attractive to hold you for the requisite 102 minutes. Director Charles Shyer ("The Affair of the Necklace," "Father of the Bride") was well-advised to keep it to that length and even wiser to cast an actor who could fill the screen with the compensatory ingredient: charm.

Jude Law, as deep and resourceful an actor as there is on the screen these days, turns it on without let up and it perfectly fits the shallowness of his man, Alfie. The actor's accomplishment, however, is even greater. Based on a 1996 play and movie starring Michael Caine, Law's real task was to justify a remake. Can he pull off the same feat that Caine did in a film that solidified his fellow Englishman's earlier hold on world attention and subsequent stardom? Law can.

Not that he needs to. His story is an oft-repeated one in the annals of great acting. He amply demonstrated his gifts as long ago as 1999 with his Dickie Greenleaf character in "The Talented Mr. Ripley." But, those who recognized Law's talent who expected quick notice by the shakers and deal makers of Hollywood had years to wait for a noticeable reappearance. This superb actor wasn't cast in anything of wide importance for two years. It was like he couldn't get a token to ride the bus in Hollywood. But when he added his extradinary juice to Gigolo Joe in Spielberg's "Artificial Intelligence: AI" it paid off. Law was the best part of that film.

But, then, only one film for Law in 2002? It's close to unbelievable, but when a great actor is called upon, he delivers. In "Road to Perdition," as the dangerously scary Harlen Maguire, he came close to giving me nightmares. Insidious and evil intelligence lay behind that role, and however bubbly his Alfie might be, Harlen Maguire remains a powerful reminder of Law's lurking edginess.

Now, he's as hot as a Santa Ana wind and is all over the place: "Cold Mountain," "I Heart Huckabees," "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," to name his last 3 in release. Backed up for later release we can look forward to "Closer,", Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," and "The Aviator," with even more in pre-production. He has arrived, and he is, for now, Alfie Elkins.

As said, the assignment here is charm, if the picture is going to work at all. Well, let me add the fascination of a sexually unscrupulous bachelor who doesn't care much for sleeping alone (though when the picture opens he's, indeed, in bed all by himself). Add to that the device of his addressing the audience as though it were an unseen confidant and co-conspirator. Alfie shares his every thought, fear and anxiety with us, straight into the camera.

What he seems to be saying as a subtext is, "hang in, don't condemn me if I can't commit to a relationship, however wonderful the girl in my life. Okay, I'm a womanizer, but I am looking for some meaning in that. And, if I don't seem to change to a better character with sensitivities that you can admire, if the disappointments that I bring on myself (and which occasionally affect others) don't transition me to somebody you can respect, If I fail to evoke your sympathy, at least bear with me (and you women can bare with me) long enough that I might amuse you with my utter good looks and captivating charm."

If that's what he's asking, he's got it. But, not a whole lot more. The amusement becomes strained.

The objects of his loose affections and easy conquests include single-mother Julie (Marisa Tomei), loosely experimental Lonette (Nia Long), flashy Nicki with a body to sink a thousand ships (Sienna Miller) but without the substance to match, rich older woman (sensationally slimmed down and sexed-up Susan Sarandon) who plays the Alfie game better than he does, and other notables and rejects.

In all, the attraction here is the guy at center screen and his ability to make a flawed and single dimensional character engaging. Charm isn't a substitute for emotional nuance, but the trick pulled off here to justify the remake is the power of seduction in the performance. It's one that should be seen in the general context of Law's growing portfolio and its enviable diversity which, based on what he's done so far, is just beginning to emerge into the amazing. He's an actor's actor and the only thing that will keep him from award recognition this year or next is competition with himself.

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